Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Petrol Prices on the Prowl

BAD PETROL FORECAST: For boat anglers and those surfcasters who need to take a decent-length drive to reach the Shore, things do not look very good on the crude front. Word on the street, as in Wall Street, indicates petrol is on the prowl, upward.

For those of you who refine your own gas in a backyard facility, you now have to pay $87 a barrel for crude. That’s the highest it’s been since October of 2008, the tail end of an oil price surge that saw pump prices hit $4.00 a gallon.

Yes, it sure seems more than coincidental that such surges in the price of crude – and the trickle up effect on gas prices at the pump – annually occur as summer moves in. I think we learned during our lengthy stint as a nation led by oilmen – Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger – that those closest to oil production are always manipulating the outpouring of crude to bring home the biggest buck. To back that lingering suspicion that “natural” swings in oil prices are actually manually tuned to torture tourism in the northern hemisphere, that 2008 price explosion at the pumps went from $100 a barrel in January of that year to a price-gouging high of $147 in July then plummeted to an anemic $32 by December. I don’t think you need an overlaying of that crude oil trend with a tourism chart to see the association.

Oddly, the ugly upswing in pump prices is not always the worst thing for the coastal economy, though you’d need an OJ-level team of persuaders to fully convince many of us that gas price explosions aren’t murder on the wallet. Still, per experts, higher fuel costs often keep people hanging in their home states. Since Jersey has more humans per square mile that any other state in the nation, keeping folks vacationing locally would seem to strike a cash cord for those owning businesses -- and those in the employ of the tourism industry.

If gas prices are going to zip through the $2s and into the $3s, I’ll pity, in advance, the headboats and charter boats, who have something of a steady clientele and must then watch as fuel costs voraciously gnaw away at their tedious seasonal profits.

As for recreational boat anglers, I swear that high gas prices kill fishes. Back in 2008, I talked to literally dozens of anglers who said they were essentially forced to keep more fish than usual, hoping to compensate for costs. Many of those anglers were guys who had to keep in the good graces of their spouses – the their exacting spur-of-the-moment budgets that hacked away at fishing expenses yet somehow found monetary allowances for weekly manicures, complete with various moon phases meticulously air brushed onto individual fingernails.

Personally, that attack of the pumps in 2008 ravaged my mullet-netting season. As all beach buggyists know, driving the sand sucks up gas so fast it leaves the fuel needle dizzy.

Here’s hoping the upcoming gas season isn’t over bloated. And if it is, I guess it’s yet another warning sign that gas-guzzling things must change. I say, as I refuse to go less than 8-cylinder on any truck I own.

MORE REGISTRY OUTBURSTS: Anglers in the state of New York are already trying to repeal the saltwater angler registry fishing license -- before it begins.

Works for me.

While I’ve barely fished the Empire State’s shore, I’m 100 percent behind the recall of its registry program. It would be like a tranquilizer for my panic attacks -- over the possibility of anglers in surrounding states storming Jersey if we’re the only “free’ state. What’s more, another defeated registry program – assuming we can do so in Jersey -- would urgently urge anglers in other states into finding alternatives to licensing.

I should enforce the point that the registry – in whatever form it finally takes – will not be a totally free ride. However, costs for the registry can surely be covered in ways other than mandatory licensing for one and all. What’s more, the anti-registry effort is not – and cannot be -- an effort to stop the end goal of gathering data about what’s being caught by anglers. The registry is a Magnuson Act mandate, tough as hell to fight.

The entire concept of juggernaut registries is suspect. An absurdly huge chunk of change would go to simply running the programs. Even then, the state-level registry profiles include huge profit overages, so much so that many a politico will see the registry as a general fund fat cow. There’s something profoundly bogus there. You mean to tell me in this dollar-ed day-and-age that someone couldn’t figure out to the exact penny what it would cost, minimally speaking, to run this program? Face it, the NOAA folks, when contriving a way to get state governments onboard, purposely tweaked the registry numbers upward – a move akin to dangle money-to-be-made carrots in front of state officials. Why? To show states that the hassles and inconvenience of an angler registry would pay general fund dividends in the end. Nice try – but many angler groups have seen through the smoke and mirrors.

DRUMMED UP EMAIL: “…I don’t recall (black) drumfish being such a popular fish for anglers. Is this species a new arriver or have they always been around but not fished for? G.M.”

It’s hard to tell if it’s making a comeback or if it has always been on-scene but flying beneath the tackle radar.

I’ve written on the olden drumfish times (mid-1960s), like when I was a clammer in the Little Egg area and old salt “Spraguey” had me excitedly placing my ear on the bottom of the garvey to hear the odd grunts and moans of spawning drumfish in the vicinity of the boat. He then “accidentally” dropped a large anchor on the boat bottom. I had a nonstop ringing in my wounded ear well into the Carter Administration. However, despite that toothless baymen prank, a truth rang true: you could easily hear down-there drumfish a-spawn in spring.

I bring that up not so much to get folks listening overboard – through one of the electronic listening devices now on the market – but to show there were plenty of big drum down below, back in the day – and likely even before that given “day.” However, it sure seemed that the black drum population thinned out, fairly drastically, from the 1970s into the early 1990s. Now, these bullish bruisers of the bottom realm seem to be all but exploding back on scene. To go along with that population push, angling for big black drum is also growing in leaps and bounds, even among serious fishermen. In fact, this may be the first time this low-usage species has been so sought after.

The angling angle is obvious. In recent years, some sharpies have been catching black drum by the hundreds, many of the female fish going 50 pounds -- and way up. In fact, a 100-poundish black drum came from the Beach Haven surf a few years back. I know of quite a few boat anglers that have caught drum over 70 pounds. The state record is 105-pounder taken in 1995. However. That biggy might soon be challengeable, as the stocks not only grow in number but in overall size.

My theory is this species is, in fact, busting loose like nobody’s business. That’s both a bad and good thing. The bad angle is the fact this drum species is filling a food-chain level vacated by gamefish species being overfishing and/or wounded by ecological downturns, like pollution. There may be no other gamefish species more suited to happily and heartily surviving in junk conditions than black drum. They seem to thrive in a slew of less-than-sound ecologies, from pure ugly-grade pollution (PCBs to methylmercury onboard) to over-nutrified bay waters.

The good side of things is the way black drum aren’t being regulated clean off anglers’ lines. What’s more, this is a catch-and-release species of the highest order. Despite some folks who swear that even huge back drum are edible, the bigger models are rarely if ever harvested for consumption. They do hit the scales as show-and-tell at the local tackle shop, though no shops are into such kill-based show sessions. That release factor allows black drum to survive when other more edible take-home species are being knocked to hell and back. And drum aren’t slow growers. Given catch-and-release reprieves on life, they’ll keep on packing on the pounds.

One of the black drum’s more dubious claims to fame is the way parasitic worms seemingly swarm to its flesh. These unappetizing wiggly invaders are as ugly as all get-out, especially when exiting a filet that is covered in Pepsi. No, I don’t know who came up with the idea of soaking drumfish filets in Pepsi. If it was you, give me a call.

It should be duly noted that a smaller black drum’s worminess does not even remotely mean the flesh is inedible. Once fully cooked, the worms are whisked off to become one with the cosmos. The cooked meat is free of any living internalized life forms. If that all sounds supremely yucked out, try doing that same Pepsi drench test with the likes of pork chops or lamb chops. The worms that crawl out will make you a vegan. And if you vegans want to smirk, you should see what maggoty thingies lurk in many a well-ripened piece of fruit. Face it, we’re all covertly wormarians. And, yes, the likes of striped bass can have worms aboard.

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